The UK science minister set out his government’s new year’s research resolutions today, including hopes for new universities dedicated to science. However David Willetts made quite clear that there was no money on the table for these potential new institutions.
“There will be no additional government funding,” he said, drawing some scorn from policy watchers.
The government is “inviting proposals” for a “new type of university with a focus on science and technology and on postgraduates”. Willetts would not elaborate much on this definition, as specifics would depend on what proposals came forward, he said.
Funding will have to come from private finance and business sponsorship, and proposals from businesses, local economic partnerships and even existing universities.
Willetts – who also reiterated the government’s support for science and claimed the UK budget for research as “a good settlement in tough times” – told a meeting at the Policy Exchange think tank in London that “We have to bridge the gap between limited public funding and continuing strong demand for higher education and research.
Although Willetts cited the huge plan for a new university in New York when outlining the government’s invitation, that project came with significant public backing (see: Cornell to build New York science campus).
Kieron Flanagan, a science policy researcher at Manchester Business School, said (via twitter), that he was “not aware of any examples of what Willetts is suggesting happening anywhere with zero public investment”. The announcement, tweeted Flanagan, appeared to be “incoherent, gimmicky and not a little desperate looking”.